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Published: January 30th 2019
We caught the train from Paris to Lucerne in Switzerland, via Basel. We then climbed aboard a ferry across Lake Lucerne to the small village of Vitznau, where we stayed for about a week at the Vitznauerhof Hotel on the waterfront. The hotel is still there, and Issy and I visited it when we stayed in Lucerne in 2017. My favourite memory of the original trip is catching a very small fish from the hotel's jetty, and Dad then getting the hotel staff to cook it up and serve it to us for dinner in the dining room. I insisted that we reenact the fishing part of the scene on a very cold and wet day in 2017, using a stick as a rod. I'm not sure where the rod in the original scene came from. I am fairly sure that we didn't pack one in a suitcase and cart it halfway round the world on the off chance that we might find some water somewhere and try to catch something, so I think that maybe we must have hired it from the hotel. I'm not sure that Dad was fully acquainted with Swiss fishing regulations, because even I thought that
At the Grimsel Pass
Note the ridiculous felt alpine hat with badges pinned all over it.
the fish was way too small to keep and that we should have thrown it back. It seems that the hotel chef was happy to play along. I think I would have remembered Dad being carted off to jail so presumably the chef didn't report us for undersized fishing, and was even happy to cook up our tiny catch and then have a waiter serve it to us on one of the hotel's fancy plates, just as if we'd ordered it from the menu. I don't think that I particularly liked eating fish, so I suspect that Dad probably did the honours. If so I hope he ordered something else to go with it, or I think he would have gone to bed that night still feeling distinctly hungry. Anyway, the important thing about all of this is that I thought that catching a fish was very exciting.
I remember us taking a trip to the top of Mount Pilatus, which towers over Lucerne, and we seemed to use a vast array of different transport methods to get there. I think we started on a ferry, and then transferred to a large outdoor lift, and a cog railway and
a cable car also came into play at some stage during the day. The lift was the Hammetschwand Elevator which took us from its base on the shores of Lake Lucerne up onto the Burgenstock Plateau. I remember being very impressed by the elevator, and read now that it was opened in 1905 and is the largest outdoor elevator in Europe at over 150 metres high. For the first fifteen metres or so the elevator shaft is in the rock, but the remainder is in open air, and I remember the views out over the lake being spectacular. Mum wasn't all that good with heights, so I suspect she might have held off opening her eyes to admire the view until Dad had led her gently by the hand across the bridge at the top of the lift until she was satisfied that she was safely back on solid rock again. I've got very distinct memories of us being passed by a man sitting all by himself in one of the cable cars that passed us going the other way. He was a very large gent wearing a tie and a three piece grey suit, and he was lounging back
in his seat smoking a very large cigar. Mum told me that he looked like Lord Muck. I had no idea who Lord Muck was, but I thought the name was very funny, as well as sounding very appropriate. I was disappointed to find out later that Lord Muck wasn't a real person after all, and that this was just a derogatory term for someone who'd got a bit ahead of themselves and decided that they wanted to be treated like an aristocrat. I remember the view from the top of Pilatus being stunning.
On one of our other days there we caught a cog railway up Mount Rigi behind Vitznau.
We also took a full day bus tour through the Alps to the south of Lucerne. From what I've been able to piece together, I think we went via the Grimsel Pass before stopping to go into an ice tunnel that had been carved into the face of the Rhone Glacier. It seems that 1.3 kilometres of the glacier has been lost to global warming over the past 120 years, so I suspect that the iteration of the tunnel that we walked into is probably now long
gone. I wonder if they keep digging new tunnels as the old ones melt away. The locals are apparently very worried about the impacts of glacier melt on local tourism. In response to this, white UV-resistant blankets are now installed over some five acres of the glacier during warm periods, and these have been something like 70% effective in reducing the glacier's retreat. I wonder what they do with the blankets when they're not using them. I suspect that you could keep a lot of skiers warm in winter with five acres worth. We continued on from the glacier up over the Susten Pass. I'm not sure whether it was on the same day, but we also visited the village of Engelberg, and took a chairlift ride up over one of its nearby ski slopes where we got great views down over Lake Trubsee.
We also took a trip into Lucerne where we walked across the Chapel Bridge and visited the Lion of Lucerne statue.
I see from the photos that Mum thought it would be a good idea if she bought me a green felt Alpine hat to wear as we trooped around the Alps. At least
I hope that it was Mum's idea. On reflection I've got a nasty suspicion that this may actually have been my idea. Everywhere we went we had to make sure that we bought badges to pin onto the side of it. I'm fairly sure that real alpine men don't pin badges all over their hats, so rather than looking traditional it just ended up looking ridiculously touristy and kitsch. What was I thinking.
I thought I remembered my parents telling me that they stayed in Vitznau with Mum's parents in 1954, not long after they were married. Mum liked the occasional brandy and soda, but her parents were strict Methodist teetotalers, so she had to keep her drinking habits hidden from them, presumably to avoid being chopped out the will. She told me that if she asked Dad to get her a dry ginger ale, he would know that this was code for brandy and soda, and she could then get her dose of alcohol right under the noses of her parents while they watched on in ignorant bliss. I was born in early December in 1954, so unless they all went to Switzerland in the depths of winter in either January or February, which seems a bit unlikely, Mum would have pregnant at the time. She almost certainly wouldn't have been aware of this, as the medicos had apparently told her previously that pregnancy wouldn't be possible as she was going through menopause. I think that Issy might say that Mum tossing away brandy and sodas while she was pregnant might explain a few things.....
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